Saturday, November 5, 2011


I admit it.  I’m a flip-flopper on the subject of integrated project delivery (IPD).

Some days I’m a pollyanna.  Some days I’m a cynic.

The pollyanna in me wants to believe that the age-old conflicts between AEs and Contractors can be suppressed to the point that we can devote more attention to getting the design right and the documents clear, and less time practicing defensive architecture. 

The cynic in me wonders whether the long, contentious history between AEs and Contractors can be neutralized any time soon.

My inner pollyanna whispers to me that maybe I’m dwelling too much on that history and that I’d be better off focusing on the present, and concentrating on my positive mental attitude.

Things usually work better on design/build projects than on design/bid/build projects because the contractual ties between AE and Contractor have a way of settling issues while the construction documents are in progress.  Thus things don’t get out of hand after it becomes expensive to make changes.

The tortured history between AEs and Contractors arises mainly out of design/bid/build projects, where the interests of AEs and Contractors diverge because of their differing stakes in a project.  Here are a few of the viewpoints I see:

      frequently assert that drawings and specs are riddled with incompleteness,  errors, and contradictions; and that when a hapless contractor finally forces an AE to deal with a mistake or contradiction, the AE blames the contractor and says the contractor failed to draw the proper “inferences” from the construction documents.
      complain that AEs take too long to review submittals.
      think the AE’s design is too sophisticated (read: expensive) for the project at hand, and complain about it to the owner.
      think that AEs are too inflexible and suspicious of Contractors.

      sometimes see Contractors as mercenaries who place a low priority on the project owner’s interest.
      suspect Contractors of blithely ignoring the requirements of the contract documents and of trying to sneak quality compromises under the radar rather than getting the explicit informed consent of the owner to make a change.
      suspect Contractors of shamelessly front-loading the payment process, to the owner’s financial detriment/risk.
      think that Contractors sometimes shirk their contractual responsibility to coordinate the work, and instead view themselves as essentially purchasing agents with little inclination to coordinate the work.

Can an IPD agreement really get AEs, Contractors (and Owners, too, by the way) to play together nicely?  I sure hope so.  Under the right circumstances, and with the right players, it can probably work well.  Just look at the success of design/build projects, where AEs and Contractors are collectively responsible for the design.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along? 

We’re in the midst of our first project designed under an IPD arrangement.  In a year or so, I should be able to say that I’m no longer a flip-flopper about IPD. 

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